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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

No Escape movie review: start the revolution without them

No Escape yellow light

Enjoyably intense, if you can get past the cultural narcissism that Western corporate colonialism only matters when it impacts a nice white American family.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Owen Wilson and Lake Bell

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If you took No Escape for a light action movie, something like a flick in which Liam Neeson would beat up villainous cartoon foreigners in a exotic land of generous film-production tax credits, you are forgiven. It’s certainly the way the film has been marketed. Plus it stars Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, comic actors known for lighthearted snark and offhand insouciance. I figured Wilson was making a preemptive bid for aging into Gray Action Hero; it seems an unlikely move for him, but they are the new hotness, after all; see: Neeson. Or maybe Pierce Brosnan, whom we are also promised here, would fill that slot. What else could be on offer but popcorn violence, snarled “funny” one-liners accompanying every gruesome death, and probably some helicopters blowin’ up real good?

That helicopter is so going to explode...

That helicopter is so going to explode…

And this is still where I was a full 15 minutes into No Escape. We’ve seen the Dwyers, of Austin, Texas, arrive in an unnamed Asian country (think Cambodia-Thailand-ish; I’m no expert on Asian alphabets, but I’m pretty sure the language we see on signs all over the place is invented). Jack (Wilson: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Internship) is an engineer, and he has moved his family — wife Annie (Bell: Man Up, Mr. Peabody & Sherman) and little girls Beeze (Claire Geare: Inception) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins: The Conjuring, World War Z) — here to work on a project that will bring clean drinking water to “the fourth world,” as he jokingly calls it. And on the morning after they arrive and have settled into their four-star hotel, they wake up to discover that the phones are down, the TV isn’t working, and there isn’t even any Internet. So Jack goes out to try to find a newspaper. And gets caught up in the middle of the beginnings of a bloody revolution.

Now, that could be a setup for Taken: Southeast Asia, but this is presented — by the brother filmmaking duo of John Erick and Drew Dowdle (Devil) — not as action but as drama, with Jack not as a badass kicked into heroic overdrive but as an ordinary guy terrified out of his mind. And I suddenly realized: No Escape wants to be Something Serious, maybe not The Killing Fields, but certainly bordering on prestige drama.

No Escape cannot hope to achieve that goal, however, because it doesn’t have the least bit of interest in making any Asian people characters in the story, and it has almost no sympathy for their completely justifiable anger, which has to do with the Western corporate colonialism Jack’s company represents (they’re in the country for profit, not charity). It’s also almost beyond belief that Jack could be as ignorant of his employer’s objectives as he professes to be, which does rather undercut the sympathy we’re intended to have for him and his family, who now have to get the hell out of dodge without being slaughtered (they get a bit of help from Brosnan’s [Survivor, A Long Way Down] shady covert operative). Sure, no one wants adorable little girls to be butchered in the streets… but adorable little girls are dying from cholera, and they’re nowhere to be found here.

However, if you can get past the cultural narcissism that Western corporate colonialism is only an issue when it impacts a nice white rich American family, No Escape is actually enjoyably intense, though much closer to the level of the horror genre that the Dowdle brothers usually work in than that of awards-bait. I’m not sure how plausible much of it is — the bit about the American embassy seems unlikely — but I found myself gripping my seat and holding my breath more than once. The kids are realistic children subjected to and coping with (or not) realistic trauma as they face life-or-death danger; it is not the stuff of popcorn violence. Poor Bell doesn’t have a whole lot to do beyond playing the fretting mother, though she’s very good in what is her first wholly dramatic role (that I’m aware of). And it’s startling how unexpectedly fierce Wilson can be, and how easy it is to accept him in a noncomic performance when he drops his trademark drawl, which is nowhere in earshot here. I never realized how much that was a part of his comedic presence. If for nothing else, the chance to see two likable actors being intriguing in a whole new way makes No Escape worth the time.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of No Escape for its representation of girls and women.

yellow light 3 stars

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No Escape (2015)
US/Can release: Aug 26 2015
UK/Ire release: Sep 04 2015

MPAA: rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, sustained threat, strong language)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I think that’s an interesting point about the proximity to the horror genre: horror in film, after all, is generally about an enemy that’s not quite fully human. And it sounds as if that’s just the way the mob’s coming across here: it’s a mob, after all, and you can’t negotiate with individuals in it even if they are nice people the rest of the time.

  • Indiana Jaws

    pretty much how I felt about ”True Lies” ya just walk out feelin dirty.

  • Exactly. The Asian revolutionaries could just as well be zombies.

  • The movie’s politics are a mess, and it’s pretty xenophobic to imply Asians would react with such unbridled brutality (it takes religion to drive people that crazy, not human rights violations), but damn if it isn’t a nail-biting thrill ride.

  • Tonio Kruger

    …it takes religion to drive people that crazy, not human rights violations…

    The history of the French Revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution would seem to suggest that that is not quite true. And even if it were, it seems pretty ignorant to pretend that many events in Asian history (the Mongol invasions, the Japanese occupation of Nanking, the persecution of the overseas Chinese in various Asian countries, the above-mentioned Cambodian killing fields, etc.) were not brutal.

    Yes, the world hardly needs more movies that mindlessly demonize nonwhite foreigners but it seems a bit silly to suggest that any one group “would not do that” when the recent history of the world would seem to suggest that all groups of humans have the potential to do that.

    Then again I would like to think that all groups of humans have the power to resist the temptation to take advantage of such potential — if they want to.

  • bronxbee

    ah, i was going to mention the French Revolution… you beat me to that excellent point.

  • skybrick1036

    Yuck the liberal pov is irritating as all hell, no way is capitalism justifiable for violence.

  • Eric Johnson

    More liberal baggage placed into a movie review.

  • Jurgan

    Don’t take the bait- that was a troll comment if I’ve ever seen one.

  • Jurgan

    Are you saying that a movie has to treat foreigners as mindless monsters or else it’s unacceptably “liberal?” I didn’t see Maryann say that murdering innocents is justified, just that a serious movie should attempt to understand its characters and not simply use them as a generic threat to put a couple big-name actors in danger.

  • skybrick1036

    Did you read the article?! “it has almost no sympathy for their completely justifiable anger, which
    has to do with the Western corporate colonialism Jack’s company

    That quote is straight from her article and then you spew some ridiculous blanket statement that came up in your head that I wasn’t even thinking about?! Christ almighty…

  • Jurgan

    Saying their anger is justified doesn’t mean their reaction to it is justified. If someone murders your wife, it’s entirely justified and human to be angry, but you wouldn’t be justified in killing their children in response. Now, if I were to make a movie with a situation like that, would it be too “liberal” to show the revenge-seeker’s anger in a realistic way?

  • skybrick1036

    Their violent behavior is directly correlated with the anger dude! It wouldn’t be much of a movie if they said they were outraged and then moped around afterwards. Your wife, children murder scenario doesn’t even remotely relate to this. You’re obviously going to win this argument though, left is always right, constantly talking in circles and playing semantics just for the sake of having to take issue, which your political affiliation deems socially correct on this certain but arbitrary day. You win!

  • Jurgan

    Did you even try to understand the review before shooting off a one-sentence reaction? Quite simply, Maryann was saying that if the movie wanted to be a serious look at the problems of poverty and violence in Southeast Asia, it needed more nuance. There’s no point in trying to make a serious movie about real issues without trying to understand the people involved. Why does that bother you?

  • skybrick1036

    Because liberals warp social issues to fit their agenda, oh its ok the violent offenders are victims too, not just the actual victims (whoever they may be). Please!!!

    You’re also trying to trap me into the corner that ethnic issues are being deluded by the right or media which in most cases I agree with. But when it comes to brass tax not everyone is going to be accepted, you can’t get everyone to like a certain group of people. I don’t want my money going to the lazy or unfortunate with Obamacare in effect. Its my money!!!!!

  • Jurgan

    I’m not trying to trap you, just figure out what the he’ll you’re talking about. You’re jumping from topic to topic so fast I can barely keep up. At this point, you’re the only one who has brought up politics. But since you did: Thank you for paying your taxes. My wife is now covered by Medicaid to get treatment for numerous health issues stemming from an abusive childhood that previously were not covered because they wee “pre-existing conditions.” We appreciate your sacrifice for the good of your fellow citizens.

  • skybrick1036

    Ughhhhlk, exactly….

  • Jurgan

    Not sure what that means, but I’ll refrain from trying to guess or putting words in your mouth.

  • skybrick1036

    Should I hypothetically feel shamed that I dont want my money going to your wife who needs it? Probably, but I dont. The world needs ditch diggers too, ya know

  • Jurgan

    “Ditch diggers?” What does that even mean? Are you saying a person with severe back problems should get a job digging ditches to pay the tens of thousands of dollars medical care would have cost pre-ACA? Because if you think that’s a realistic option, you’re living in a fantasy world. At least you acknowledge your greed is a character flaw. I hope someday you overcome it.

  • skybrick1036

    Its a figure of speech dude, and I care about my family above all us, that trumps everything. Is it greed that I want to make my family have the most comfortable way of life, fine. I’m done and going to delete these after your next post. You’re a tiring annoying person to talk with.

  • Said the person with clean drinking water, whose children are not dying from diarrhea.

  • But it *would* be “much of a movie” if the protagonist was an Asian person through which we could appreciate what has driven his/her people to such violence.

  • Jurgan

    Has your family suffered poverty due to the ACA? I doubt it. You’re worried far too much about your money. Not sure why you think I’m “tiring and annoying,” or what’s causing you to flounce off. Are you just not comfortable with people disagreeing with your simplistic worldview? Because I’ll remind you that you started the whole conversation with a drive-by jab at “liberals,” and now you’re running away as soon as someone expresses a different opinion. Why’d you come to a discussion site and offer an opinion if you didn’t want to discuss it?

  • Thank you for noticing. Would you like to sign a petition against the privatizing of natural resources for corporate profit?

  • Jurgan

    That guy really was the epitome of “fuck you, got mine,” wasn’t he?

  • Karl D

    Like one of the original TV “Star Treks” where Captain Kirk admits we’re all savages, we’re just not going to kill anybody today. Like AA for us war mongering Americans. :)) Muy terrible. I’m off to see it tonight.

    Yes, tell it to the little girl watching from the 2nd story window during the couple of weeks the Japanese ruthlessly raped Nanking. The world is watching ISIS right now, and sits on it’s collective hands.

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    Here’s another review of No Escape that pretty much echoes what you thought about it:


    Of course, in the comment section, and trolls and racists through a fit about the fact the author actually pointed out the racism in it.

  • General Jawspital

    gotta love how ppl are reacting like this is the first movie to depict another culture as the enemy. have any of these people like ever seen a movie lol.

  • Danielm80

    We’re not upset by bigotry because it’s novel and original. We’re upset because it’s extremely unoriginal. If the filmmakers thought for themselves, they might not have recycled old prejudices.

  • General Jawspital

    depicting asians as a faceless enemy in a hollywood movie is america treating asians well. you want real bigotry try vietnam were america bombed their asses back to the stone age.

  • Tonio Kruger


    I guess I missed the part in my post when I argued that the rape of Nanking was not such a terrible thing as well as the part where I argued that the U.S. should not be doing anything about Mideast terrorism.

    Perhaps I should start writing stuff down on my arm like the protagonist in Chris Nolan’s Memento because I’m pretty sure I would have remembered writing something like that but for some reason, I don’t.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Wait! We should only be upset by bigotry if it’s novel and original?

    That seems like rather a stupid notion.

    That’s like saying there’s no sense condemning the latest anti-Semitic statement from the Iranian head of state on the grounds that antisemitism is not all that novel in the Middle East.

  • Tonio Kruger

    America has been experiencing incidents of violence against people of Asian descent since the anti-Chinese riots of the nineteenth century.

    However, that still doesn’t negate MaryAnn’s criticism of this movie any more than the fact that Donald Trump’s recent statements about Mexicans are not as bad as the violence Mexican-Americans experienced during the Zoot Suit riots of the 1940s means that Mexican-Americans have no right to criticize him for said statements.

  • Bluejay

    When you bomb Asians back to the stone age, it helps to not see them as human beings. Depicting Asians as a faceless enemy in movies helps people to think that way. These things are connected.

  • General Jawspital

    dude the real problem with this movie is Owen Wilson.

  • Madoms Ending

    You’ve now been quoted on Rotten Tomatoes! There is an article on Owen Wilson’s best movies, and they quote you giving a positive comment about Wedding Crashers.

  • bronxbee

    it’s been a while, but maryann gave “Wedding Crashers” a positive review? gotta go re-read that. i just can’t believe it.

  • And they spelled my name wrong. I’ve only been an RT critic for 16 years or so, so that’s understandable, I guess.

  • RogerBW

    After all, you’ll only go changing it or something.

  • I guess I’ll have to find someone named Johnson to marry. Crap.

  • Madoms Ending

    Hey, now you’re one step closer to being able to be called MaryAnn “The Rock” Johanson.

  • David C-D

    That would be a beautiful subtitle for the site…

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